On any given day, Club Fonograma’s live traffic monitor recites the locations of its most recent visitors. They come from Oakland, Mexico City, San Juan, Valdivia – in the far south of Chile, and Nottingham, in Great Britain. They come from all over, says Carlos Reyes, the blog’s founder.
They come to discover the Latin world’s newest and most innovative pop music, reviewed and curated by a small staff of volunteer writers. Often called the Latin Pitchfork, Club Fonograma has become a mecca for Latino hipsters, DIY devotees, Anglo hispanophiles and music lovers. Gael Garcia Bernal calls himself a loyal reader. And Tony Gallardo of El María y José has said that his career would not have taken off so quickly if it weren’t for Club Fonograma’s reviews of his work.
Carlos Reyes, a 27-year old Mexican American immigrant living in Phoenix, Arizona, is at the helm of this critical venture. Until recently, Reyes maintained a low profile. (That changed when the city of Phoenix awarded Club Fonograma a Big Brain award.) He didn’t allow photos of his face anywhere on the Internet. Fans of Club Fonograma speculated that Reyes was a pseudonym for Mexican musician Julieta Venegas, who Reyes calls “the godmother of Club Fonograma.” When asked if she had founded the blog, the Mexican popstar would respond, “No comment.” There were all kinds of theories about his identity, Reyes says, with a wry chuckle.
But in truth, Carlos Reyes is just a shy, sensitive guy with an encyclopedic knowledge of DIY music and Latin American cinema. He is not a traditionally macho Mexican man, and his English still wears an unmistakable accent. His idea of a good time is watching an intricate film with his twin brother Ricardo, and then going home and dissecting it. But he also has an incisive wit and acute critical eye, and thus a great BS detector (“When my writers refer to Tijuana as the 'city of sin,' I say, 'Okay, have you ever even been there?'" he says of his editing process).
In the same conversation, he may expound on his belief that Colombian-American actress Sophia Vergara is the new Carmen Miranda – (“True, she’s not wearing bananas on her head, but she puts on a thick Spanish accent to make herself more marketable”) – and then offer up a theory that the piñata is a metaphor for Mexican culture’s tendency to mix pleasure and pain. He is frustrated by Fox Latino’s insignia – bright red boldface type over a map of the world. “As a people we have so many more dimensions than that,” says Reyes.
Reyes’s foray into blogging began when his mother, Maria Guadalupe, found an old Mac at a yard sale. At first, his family had no internet, so Reyes just typed mock top ten lists in Microsoft Word, something he’d first seen on Mexican TV as a kid. Then a relative installed dial-up, and Reyes launched a blog of movie critiques, called Cine Azteca. He says he was like a voyeur for Myspace and early social networking sites, watching from a safe distance, but never contributing much.
Cine Azteca, and later Club Fonograma, were different. They were spaces that were, in his own words, “deeply personal”. In Club Fonograma, he began reviewing albums and giving them ratings. “It was never my ambition to have a lot of people reading. But people showed up.”
Writing reviews and publishing them online was the main coping mechanism he adopted to survive adolescence as an immigrant in Arizona. Instead of acting out, Reyes got online. “For me the internet was about escaping,” he says, “but the idea was to use it to create something.”